Thu | Dec 14, 2017

Madness - Lack of psychiatric facility forces mentally-ill persons to serve long 'sentences' without trial

Published:Sunday | November 16, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Barbara Gayle, Justice Coordinator

The plight of a 70-year-old man who has been held in prison for the past 16 years without being convicted of any crime has again turned the spotlight on the need for a psychiatric facility outside of prisons to treat mentally ill persons in conflict with the law.

Glover Griffiths has been in custody since 1998, when he was accused of chopping to death his neighbour Dennis Thompson, but has not yet been tried for the murder because he has been deemed unfit to plead.

When Griffiths appeared in the Home Circuit Court recently, attorney-at-law Franklin Halliburton, who is representing another mentally ill man, noted that there are no psychiatric facility anywhere on the island to treat mentally ill prisoners who are remanded at the court's pleasure.

Halliburton is representing 32-year-old Keino Johnson, who is accused of slashing the throat of his 75-year-old mother Veronica Wizard at her home at Hopeful Village, Kingston 12, on August 25, 2012.

"We really need a proper psychiatric facility where persons like Johnson and Griffiths can be kept," declared Halliburton, as he argued that a lack of understanding of mental illness in Jamaica is a real problem.

Just over one week ago, a 12-member jury was empanelled to determine if Johnson and Griffiths were fit to plead.

Evidence was given by forensic psychiatrist Dr Clayton Sewell and psychiatrist Dr Myo Kyan Oo that both men have been diagnosed with the chronic mental illness schizophrenia.

The doctors noted that Johnson has been receiving treatment for mental illness since he was a teenager, while Griffiths had made very little progress in his condition despite being treated from 1998.

Johnson and Griffiths sat in the dock and stared into space as the psychiatrists spoke about their conditions.

No plea

The doctors said, based on the men's mental conditions, they were not capable of giving a plea to guilty or not guilty. They were also not capable of following proceedings in court or to instruct a lawyer.

The jury found that both men were under a disability of mind and were not fit to plead or to stand trial.

Justice Sarah Thompson James, who was presiding, said she was aware of the lack of facility for mentally ill prisoners outside of the prisons as she ordered that the two men should be kept at the psychiatric facility at the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre at the pleasure of the court.

The judge also ordered the commissioner of corrections to present a monthly report on the men's condition to the court.

Attorney-at-law William Hines, who is representing Griffiths, said it would appear that his client is going to remain in prison without ever facing a trial.

Hines argued that the 16 years Griffiths already spent in prison amounted to him serving a sentence.

That position was endorsed by former Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, who described the treatment of mentally ill prisoners as unfortunate.

According to Chuck, accused persons who are mentally ill are forced to serve sentences despite not being convicted of any offence.

"This is one of the many tragedies of the justice system," declared Chuck.